Third Month in Paradise

“When you see the Southern Cross for the first time, you understand now why you came this way.” (Crosby, Stills & Nash)

My apartment balcony faces south. To my right is a dense jungle covering the steep slopes of an extinct volcano. To my left are mangroves, a lagoon and a reef where the surf crashes hour after hour, day and night. With the passage of time and the movement of the constellations, the Southern Cross is now visible just after sunset. In the evenings, I stand on my balcony to cool off in the tradewinds and gaze at the Southern Cross blazing over the coconut palms .

Today, I’d like to give you a virtual tour of Kosrae — this beautiful little island that has become my home. As always, click on any photo to enlarge it.

Kosrae is small. With good shoes, a bicycle and a kayak, you can circumnavigate the whole island in a day. Along the way, you’ll pass pristine coral-sand beaches like the ones shown here. You’ll need a kayak to paddle around the mangrove swamps where there are no roads or paths.

Along the shore, the sea is calm because of a fringing reef about 150 meters offshore. The reef absorbs the Pacific’s energy and keeps our lagoon comfortable for swimming and fishing.

Between the shore and the fringing reef is a shallow reef flat. On this reef flat, clusters of mangroves take root. These mangroves are essential to Kosrae’s survival in this era of rising sea levels. The mangroves absorb any surf that comes over the reef. By filtering the sediments and organic matter from the island, the mangroves keep the reef clean and healthy. The mangroves also provide environments for fish and crabs.

Except for a few small passages through which fishing boats can come and go, the fringing reef encircles the entire island, The surf beyond the reef is 1 to 2 meters high.

In some places, the mangroves are so thick that they form a continuous barrier between the shore and the reef. This creates estuaries that are full of birds and other wildlife. The estuaries are wonderful places to explore by kayak.

Most of Kosrae is forested. Without a machete, you won’t go far into this vegetation. Even after you’ve cut a path through this jungle, you may not be able to find your path a week later because the undergrowth will have grown back very fast. Many of the trees are blanketed by a flowering vine that I first thought was Kudzu. It’s actually Merremia peltata, a member of the morning glory family.

Kosrae’s interior is very steep. So, all of Kosrae’s 6600 residents live on the flats near the shore. This leaves the interior of the island undeveloped, unspoiled and natural,

Here’s the wacky group that I work with at Kosrae’s Historic Preservation Office. Today, we’re hacking our way through a mangrove swamp in search of 1000-year-old ruins built by some of the first kings of Kosrae. When this photo was taken, we were searching for a palace known as Likinlulem, where Kosrae’s first chiefs are said to have held court. The site is an important element of the island’s oral history.

The photos above shows what a 1000-year-old ruin looks like when it has been overtaken by Korsae’s jungle. It doesn’t look like much. After some reconnoitering, we concluded that these basalt boulders were once a pier.

My friends and I sometimes go fishing. There’s lots to eat in the reefs. I can’t claim to have caught these lobsters, but they sure were delicious!

Tropical sunsets are lovely. Sometimes I sit on the beach with a beer and watch the sky go pink in the evening. In these times of Coronavirus, you can see why I’m not in a hurry to leave Kosrae — which is still 100% virus-free.

Eventually, international travel will become smooth again and I’ll get restless. Even today, United Airlines announced an “evacuation flight.” Because Micronesia’s international travel ban is still enforced, this flight is for outbound travelers only. No one will be allowed to deplane in Kosrae. So, like Shangri-La, if I leave this paradise, I can’t come back. I think I’ll stay here for a while longer.